feast: Privileges of the Temple of God
Martin G. Collins
Given 18-Oct-11; 72 minutes
This Feast pictures Jesus Christ’s direct, personal rule over all nations as the beneficent King of Kings. Yet, even Christ will still be under authority. As a human being, Jesus continually taught His disciples that He derived His power and authority from the One who had sent Him to this earth as a Messenger.One of the stunning truths Jesus unveiled to a blinded humanity was the news that the God of heaven is a Father. The profound implications of this unprecedented teaching led to charges of blasphemy against Jesus Christ.
Satan-inspired men reacted violently toward it; it struck at the root reason for man’s existence. Pagans, atheists, and deceived religionists could not remotely conceive that the spirit Super-Being, possessing the keys of life and death for all eternity, the One holding the sovereign power to disintegrate the galaxies in an instant, that resplendent Personality, is the Holy Father. The almighty God of supreme accomplishment and character, the One who inhabits eternity, existing at the apex of wisdom and power, this magnificent Creator reveals Himself as our Father.
He is a literal father, as well. His plan is to let others enjoy His limitless resources and true holiness. Think of it: The government of God, the Ruler of the vastness of space, the administration of the entire universe, is structured through a family relationship, that of the divine Family.
God bestowed the matchless privilege of the family relationship upon human beings, His future Sons, which He is in the process of perfecting. This is why the Apostle Paul described the inner dynamics of human, family relationships as a “great mystery” in Ephesians 5:32. Please turn with me to Ephesians 2 and verse 20. It is a breathless thought to consider that we are being built together for a dwelling place for this Supreme God and Loving Father. Here in Ephesians 2 and verse 20, we read:
Ephesians 2:20-22 Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
These verses carry on the thought of the previous verse where the Apostle Paul says, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.”
Paul used three pictures to enable us to see the privileges of being members of God’s Church: fellow citizens, the household of God, and the Church as a temple of God, a house of God, or a building in which He dwells.
It is always interesting to observe the working of Paul’s mind. Have you ever wondered, when reading this statement, why Paul added the third picture? It seems that the thought of a household suggested to him the thought of a house. It is a natural transition from the household, the family, to the house in which they dwell. Paul usually moves along lines of reason or logical links and connections. Household to house; very logical.
In dealing with the idea of the Church as the family of God, Paul advances from the first picture on to a higher concept in the second image. This third picture continues to an even higher conception; it illustrates the privileges of being part of a dwelling place for God. However, at first glance, it looks like Paul is moving from personal to impersonal, from the human to the material. Is Paul moving to a higher conception than the household? Or is he suddenly changing the trend and line of thought and bringing us to some kind of mechanical picture? This is a very important question, not only from the standpoint of accuracy, but still more perhaps from the standpoint of spiritual truth.
Continuing on, we will find that the Apostle Paul’s thought is still advancing and that, in the third picture, he brings us up to a great climax, beyond which nothing is possible. This can be established in the definition and description of the relationship that exists between the members of the Church. Paul’s primary principle is that of unity, and what he is trying to do in these three pictures is to bring out this great fact of unity; the unity of the Church.
In the third picture, he is showing us the essence of that unity in an even greater way than he did in His first two illustrations. We will see the superiority of this third picture with respect to the second picture (that of the family), which is superior to the first picture (that of the state or of citizenship).The members of a family, while they are more closely bound together than are the fellow citizens in a state, are still in some respects in a free and loose association. The family, after all, is a collection of individuals. When you come to a building, that is no longer the case and there is a truer merger of parts. In a family, a person can walk away. In a building, they do not walk away; they are a part of that building or the building will collapse.
The phrases that Paul uses in the 20th verse, “in whom all the building,” “the whole building” provides the key to a true understanding. As you think of a building as distinct from a family, there is a unity between the different bricks or stones in a building which is even closer than that existing between the members of a family.
The members of a family are separate and distinct individuals. All of the members of a family are not identical; they do not have to submerge their characteristics in order to be members of a family. Individuality still remains and sometimes it is very striking, so much so at times that certain members of a family may bear a closer resemblance to people of no blood relation than to one another.They are members of a family and yet this individuality still remains; the connection and the attachment is, to that extent, a loose one. The most essential point about a building, on the other hand, is the cohesion. Paul describes cohesion as being “fitly framed together.”
The members of a family can separate from one another. However, that does not mean they cease to be members of a family but they can part company. They may quarrel, they may not see each other, and they may not engage in conversation but we know that the fundamental union is still there, and nothing can dissolve it. With regards to fellowship, companionship, and being together, they can separate because they are distinct and separate entities and almost give the impression that there is no relationship or connection between them.
By contrast, if you take a large number of stones out of a building your wall will collapse and your building will be non-existent. Look at the three pictures in Ephesians 2:19-22. With regard to citizenship of the household or the family, to the house in which they dwell, the principle of unity is shown to be still closer and nearer with a building. Separate the bricks or the stones in a wall, and the building is gone but you can separate the members of a family and still the family remains as a unit.It is a looser connection than is the case in a building. This suggests that Paul was purposely advancing in his thinking, and that he shows us here that the relationship of Christians as members of the Church is certainly as close and as intimate as is that which can be found in the different parts of a building.
But when we look at it from the standpoint of privilege, the advance in the thought is even more evident. The child is in a more advantageous position than the citizen. The humble citizen can appeal to the head of state, but not in the same way that a child can approach his father. That shows a more intimate relationship and a higher and a greater level of privilege. But here Paul goes even beyond that. His conception of the Church is that the Church is the holy temple of the Lord, “built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”
Now the child has access to the father, but the child is still outside the father. But here the idea presented is of God dwelling within us, taking up His abode within us. Now that is as tremendous an advance in thought, as the second was upon the first. Not only are we in that close relationship to God and have this freedom of access to Him but also, above and beyond all that, the final mystery and glory of the Church is that God dwells within her. She is the temple, the holy temple of the Lord.
As His presence dwelt in that innermost sanctuary in the old temple among the children of Israel, so now He dwells in the Church among His people. There is nothing in the realm of thought that can advance beyond that. It is, of course, similar to the teaching that Christ gave just before the end of His earthly life when He said that He would not abandon His disciples.
It was a great privilege to be there standing in the presence of the Son of God, looking at Him, listening to Him, being able to question Him and being helped by Him. That was wonderful, but there is something better; it is, that He will come and dwell in us and live in us. And Christ said that is what I am going to do. I will come to you.
John 14:18-21 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.In dwelling of the Father and the Son, "A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him."
That is beyond speaking to Him externally. He now comes and dwells within. Galatians 2 and verse 20 says:
Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
It is a very intimate relationship. That is the idea, the kind of conception that Paul holds in front of us in the last picture that he uses. What he says is that the Ephesian Christians are parts of this great building, this temple of God. These Ephesians who were once so far away have been built into this temple and are being built into it.
This teaching, concerning the Church as a great building, is given a lot of prominence in the New Testament. You remember that this teaching was first promoted by Jesus Christ in the great incident at Caesarea Philippi, when Peter made his affirmation.
Matthew 16:13-18 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
There is the first use of the analogy; there is the basis on which all the others have built. I do not have the time today to expound this statement, but it is dealt with indirectly and by implication by Paul in Ephesians 2. Turn to the statement at the beginning of I Corinthians 3 where Paul says that he is a “master builder,” and he clearly has this whole conception of the Church as a building in mind. We are going to read verses 9-17.
I Corinthians 3:9-15 For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul says there are all sorts of people who are building upon this foundation but they are not all building in the true way. There is going to be a judgment and every man’s work will be tried but it is the idea of the Church as a building that he is emphasizing.
I Corinthians 3:16-17 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
The whole trouble in the church at Corinth was that they had forgotten this, and as a result they were dividing themselves up. It sounds like what is happening today in the Church.
I Corinthians 1:12-13 Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The Corinthian Christians did not seem to know that they were part of the temple of the living God. Paul says they must not destroy God’s temple that way; they were violating the principle of unity.
II Corinthians 6:14-16 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people."
In this way, we are reminded of the all-importance of this doctrine of the Church. All the troubles in the Church finally come from our failure to realize the true nature of the Church. These people had been called and baptized; they were Christians but they were in trouble in many directions because they kept forgetting what they were as members of the Church. They were segregating themselves, in a sense, becoming individualists in a wrong sense, and troubles and trials arose. The answer to all that is: Come back and realize that the Church is like a great building. But the Church is not the material building literally. Again, he is really saying the same thing when he reminds these Corinthians that the Holy Spirit dwells in them. He is thinking of individuals not the Church, but it is a part of the same concept.
I Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
There is a dual meaning here. In our bodies and our minds, we are to glorify God by producing a true witness of God’s way of life. Dually, as a church and as a family, we are to do the same thing. We never go out into public; we never visit someone else outside the church without setting an example and upholding the name of God for God’s Church, for His family.
Paul tells them not to commit certain sins of the body. Why? Because “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you.” I am quoting all of this to show how vitally important it is in the New Testament teaching.
I Timothy 3:15 But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
It is still the same idea. And the Apostle Peter uses exactly the same illustration in I Peter 2 verse 5.
I Peter 2:5 You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
We are given an awesome responsibility in the privileges that we have as members of God’s household and dwelling place. Living stones being built up a spiritual house. There are other examples also that could be quoted, but these are the leading illustrations.
With all these passages in our minds, let us see what Paul is really teaching us in Ephesians 2:21-22. It seems that we can divide his statement into two main sections: First, there is a general statement about this idea of the Church, especially in terms of unity and privilege. What a privilege it is to be a unified piece of the Church! Secondly, there are the actual details of the construction.
Whenever you look at a building it is important to bear those two things in mind. You can take a general view of the building and there are certain marked features that you can see immediately, but also there is that other aspect to the study of a building: the examination of the foundation in detail, the way in which the walls have been built, and what it is that holds it all together. In a fascinating manner Paul deals with both aspects here.
For the present I want to deal in particular with the first principle only; namely, this general conception of the Church as a building. As we look at it, imagine seeing yourself as a part of this amazing process that is going on.
The first thing Paul tells us is that the Church is a building which is in the process of being built. God is erecting a building, and that building is His Church. It is a process that He has been involved in for quite some time.
Paul clearly shows that it is a process; we “are being built upon the foundation.” Peter says something very similar to what I just quoted—we “are being built up a spiritual house.” Also, remember that Paul said, “in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”God has a great plan. He is an eternal Architect who has drawn up His plans and specifications, and He is building. In every generation He is taking out certain stones, quarrying them, and adding them to the building. In some generations there has been a great addition, in a sense, you can see the building springing up in a more visible way. But there are periods when nothing at all seems to be happening, and yet the building is going on, one stone here and one there. It is all part of this great process.
We have to remind ourselves that it is only a part of God’s purpose, and that it is also a certain and specific purpose. This process of building has been going on for a long time. Paul says, “you have been built into it.” You and I have been added to it, built into it; we are part of it. The process is still going on and it will go on until it is complete. Paul talks about “the fullness of the Gentiles,” and of “all Israel being saved.” God knows all His people and His foundation stands sure.Let the world do what it will. Everyone whom God has chosen for His building will be in it. We are placed in it, added to it, and it is the highest and greatest privilege that can ever be given to any human being.
Think of yourself then, in this way, as a part of this glorious edifice, this tremendous temple—that God is building this marvelous structure, this glorious temple. That is the first thought that Paul presents regarding the privilege of being a part of God’s process of building us into His Church,but let us not forget the second thing which is suggested by Paul in Ephesians 2:20-22, which is that this is a vital process.
Ephesians 2:20-22 Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Growth is a living process. Paul may have realized as soon as he started with this conception that people might begin to think of the Church as the building of the Church in a mechanical manner. You just put a brick on top of a brick, add a stone to a stone, put in a bit of mortar, and so on. What is more mechanical than building?
To be crystal clear, it seems that Paul brings in a term like this word “grows.” Can a building grow? Can something that is material and mechanical grow? It can, according to Paul. In order to make this clear he is almost guilty, if not guilty, of mixing metaphors. He is mixing the metaphor of the growth of flowers or of grass and that of a building developing, advancing, extending, and going up. In I Corinthians 3 verses 8-11, it is interesting to observe that he again puts these two ideas side by side.
I Corinthians 3:8-11 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
At one and the same time Paul says that he is a farmer and a master builder. You, he says, are like a field of wheat and you are also a building. He puts the two ideas together and seems to blend them into one. The building is growing; a vital process!
The Apostle Peter does the same thing. Whether he got the idea from the Apostle Paul or not, we do not know. We do know that he read Paul’s epistles, because he told us that some of them are a little difficult to understand.
Did you notice the words I quoted from I Peter 2 verse 5, “you also, as living stones….?” Can a stone be lively? Can a stone be living? Is there vitality in a stone? Peter says there is, and this is his metaphor, “…you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house.” The Apostle Paul brings out this same idea in Ephesians 2 and verse 22.
Ephesians 2:22 In whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Being built together. He uses that same idea in Ephesians 4 when speaking about the body.
Ephesians 4:16 From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
We have Paul combining these metaphors: “From whom [that is, Christ] the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” Now all that is quite simple in the case of the body, but is it as evident in the case of a wall or a building? How do we explain this? The only way to understand it, according to Paul, is to understand the idea that it is a vital building, a living building.
This is one of the things that needs to be emphasized urgently today. There is all the difference in the world between just adding to the numbers on the register of a church and the growth of the holy temple of God.
We are living in an age that is statistically minded and driven, and you can read reports of countries and places where people call themselves Christian, but it does not follow that they are all being built into this holy temple of the Lord. We must beware to prevent human ideas from intruding; we have to make sure that in our desire to act we are not wasting our energy.
When the day comes that everyone’s work is tried by fire, we certainly do not want to find that our work will prove to be nothing but wood, hay, and stubble that will all be burned and we will suffer the loss. Yet, by the grace of God, we ourselves may still be saved.
It does not necessarily follow that those around the world who call themselves Christians are “living” stones or that they are part of this growth when there is no unity. There is no commonality of doctrine when there are contentions between beliefs as we see in Ireland where Catholics and Protestants have killed one another. Mainstream Christianity is notpart of this spiritually living growth!
The increase of the Church is vital, not mechanical. Statistics are meaningless! People can add to the physical membership of a church, but God alone can build, through the Holy Spirit, into the building of the Church. This growing into a holy temple is a vital process.
In the world today, we hear a lot about church unity, a great world church, and the coalescing of different denominations. Listen to this quote about the globalist’s plan to put interfaith centers in every city in the world:
“What is needed is an interfaith center in every city of the globe," said James Morton, a former dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The new interfaith centers will honor the rituals of every faith tradition: Islam, Hinduism, Christian and provide opportunity for sacred expression needed to bind the people of the planet into a viable, meaningful, and sustainable solidarity.”
Growth is not always a good thing if it means that Satan’s perverse way of life is promoted and increases. In contrast, spiritual growth must be righteously motivated. Merely to amalgamate a number of organizations is not Paul’s conception of the unity of the Church nor of the increase of the Church; however, that seems to be the controlling thought today. It is mechanical; it is statistical. You just add on here; you sit down, have a conference, and you decide to add on to the organization. That is the world’s approach to building a religious organization. God is not unifying organizations; He is unifying individuals into His church as a part of His plan.
What a contrast that is to God’s spiritually vital, living, and dynamic process! Let us go to Galatians 6 verses 1-3. Most churches today plead with and even try to force people to join them. A true church of God should never try to make anyone join the Church. We should, however, try to restore those who sin among us, and we must not think that we are so spiritually strong that it could not happen to us.
Galatians 6:1-3 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
In the world, people have often been bribed to join a church. This growth and its result is the antithesis of this vital process in which Paul is interested. Always remember that it is a vital process. We do not join God’s Church; God calls us into it!
This brings us to the third item. The Apostle Paul says that this is a “holy temple.” As you walk around this building and look at it, what is your main impression? The main impression this building gives to Paul is an impression of “holiness.” He does not say a word about size nor does he say anything about its ornate character. He does not say that there is anything showy about it, but he does say that it is holy. That is the great characteristic he mentions in Ephesians 2 verses 21 and 22.
Ephesians 2:21 In whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2:22 In whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The members of the Church are a holy temple that cannot be linked or syncretized with other inferior buildings like: Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, nor Islamism. The main characteristic of the Church is not that it must be large or influential. The main characteristic of the temple is holiness: a “holy people,” “a place fit for God to dwell in.”
As Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 4, the one guarantee of true unity in the Church is the unity of the Holy Spirit, the unity of holiness, the unity of holy people. When holiness is put at the center, a lot has to go before a lot can come in.
You start with holiness, and then the numbers increase. But, if you try to add to the number without the holiness, you will not have a “temple of the Lord.” You will have a great organization, you will have a flourishing business prospect, you will have an impressive institution; but it will not be the place where God dwells. It may be a place of entertainment and a lot of bustling activity, but it will not be the Church of the Holy and Great God. In His church, holiness is the main characteristic with Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone.
What else does Paul add? In Jesus Christ, all the building is fitly framed together and grows into a holy temple. As you read through these first two chapters of this Epistle to the Ephesians, how often do you find this repetition of the name Jesus Christ?
We find that Paul uses variations in references constantly: Jesus Christ, the Lord, Christ Jesus, in whom, in Him, even in Him; on and on he goes, always referring to Him! There is no true Church apart from Jesus Christ; there is no unity apart from Jesus Christ.
Notice the repetition of it in Ephesians 2 again, “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” In whom? There is nothing apart from our relationship to Him. And then, “a dwelling place of God.” The Father is coming to dwell within; and He does so through the Spirit.
People went into the ancient temple to meet with God. It was the place where His presence and His honor dwelt. The practical, vital importance of this teaching for us is that God dwells now in the temple which is the Church. It is in us and through us that people look for Him and, in that first sense, come to Him.
Are we giving the impression to those who are outside, that the Church is the temple of the Great and Living God? Do they see something of this holiness, this awe that belongs to God Himself in us? Do they see that He dwells in us and we walk with Him?
There are some general principles deduced from the general language Paul uses. We go on to consider in detail what Paul tells us about the construction. It is absolutely vital. Paul is concerned to show two things: One is the essential unity that must always be true of the Church and of all who are truly Christian. This unity is not something people have made; it is something that God has made and that God Himself has produced in Christ. The second thing, (following from that unity) is the privilege of our position in the Church. Paul, in this picture of the Church as this temple, a holy building in which God dwells, brings out those two truths very clearly.
To talk in terms of numbers, size, organization, or anything else is extremely dangerous in these matters. The unity of the Church is the result of two things: purity of doctrine and purity of life. It is “a holy temple in the Lord.” It is “a dwelling place of God.” It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets; with “Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”
What is a chief cornerstone? It is a primary foundation stone at the angle of the structure by which the Architect fixes a standard for the bearings of the walls and cross-walls throughout. The cornerstone not only holds together all these other subsidiary foundation stones but also binds them together and it binds all the walls together. It is at the corner, and everything is supported and welded together by it. The chief cornerstone is Jesus Christ Himself. Isaiah had prophesied this in chapter 28 and verse 16.
Isaiah 28:16 Therefore thus says the Lord God: "Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; whoever believes will not act hastily.
A tried and precious cornerstone, a sure foundation. The Apostle Peter paraphrases that verse in I Peter 2 verses 4-6.
I Peter 2:4-6 Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame."
Remember that Jesus Himself said this, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner” referring to Himself and to His glorious and triumphant resurrection. He says they rejected Him, but they will find that He will become the Head stone of the corner. He is the basis of the whole building, binding all together, sustaining the weight of the entire superstructure. There is no unity apart from Jesus Christ.
It is our relationship to Him, our dependence upon Him that matters. He is central, He is vital, He is all-important. So, the phrase in Ephesians 2 verses 21 and 22 is very significant.
Ephesians 2:21-22 In whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
If we are not “being fitted together,” we are not in God’s building. We are not in the building if we have another foundation. We must be based solidly upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. We must not be based upon a vague, nebulous Christianity that says that we must not be concerned about doctrine because doctrine separates; true doctrine unifies!
Galatians 1:6-9 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
We must know in whom we believe. We must know what we believe. Were it not for the grace of God in Jesus Christ, were it not for atoning and sacrificial, substitutionary death we would still be in the position of being dead in trespasses and sins.
We must realize that a foundation is of absolutely central importance. We must never take any risks with a foundation. Christ established that point in His parable of the two houses, one built upon a rock and one upon the sand.
Where do we come into all this? We are built upon the foundation. We are parts of the walls that are going up in the erection of this great temple which God is building for Himself and for His own dwelling place. As we come to a consideration of our part and position in this amazing building of God, we have to be careful to observe what the Apostle Paul tells us about whois built into it and howthey are built into it.
There are three things that we must bear in mind. Obviously, every part of this structure must bear a particular relationship to the foundation. In a temple such as this, in any great and magnificent building, there must always be a connection between the various parts. You cannot put shoddy material here and there into a perfect building. If you are going to erect some unusual building, a great holy temple, every part must harmonize with every other part.
So, it is vital for us to remember the first thing: We, as individual parts in this great temple of God, must correspond to the foundation; we must be truly and rightly related to that foundation. This is something of crucial importance. It is interesting how Paul put it in I Corinthians 3 verses 10-13. This is a word especially for those of us who are privileged with being pastors; we are the builders under God, laborers together with Him.
I Corinthians 3:10-13 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is.
Shoddy building never passes the test. There are people who are so anxious to build quickly that they are not careful about what they put into the walls; anything to construct the building and cover it over with a little paint. It looks great. The ignorant and the uninitiated are impressed. They say, “How wonderful!” Others seem to be building so slowly that undiscerning people say, “He is doing nothing at all” but “the day” will declare or expose it.
We are building not for time but for eternity. The master architect is God Himself who sees everything that is being done and will test it at the end. There are men who seem to have done wonders, but when “the day” comes they will find that all their work has been destroyed, there will be nothing left at all. Those who are truly Christian will still be saved though all their work is lost, but they will be saved after having been tested by fire. Paul simply carries out the imagery that he started; he says that they will be saved as if the action of fire had been felt on the building on which he is speaking.
That is, as fire would consume the wood, hay, and stubble, so also, on the day of a person’s judgment everything that is false and imperfect will be removed, and that which is true and genuine will be preserved as if it had passed through fire. Their whole character and opinions will be investigated; that which is good will be approved and that which is false and flawed will be removed.
We are warned to take heed of how we build on this foundation. In other words, the business of this subordinate-builder is not simply to erect a wall but to make sure that everything that goes into the wall is in coordination with the foundation.
A minister must build into the Church not merely numbers on paper or in attendance, but those who are really established on the foundation of the faith. The kind of person who is just looking for a social club or who is a religious hobbyist and wants to be a member cannot go into the wall.
God calls people as specific building material pieces; a person cannot just join the building because he cannot merely be fitted anywhere in the structure. Those who have merely been brought up to go to a place of worship or who are passably moral are not automatically part of the building. There must be a definite relationship to the one and only foundation.
Let us go on to the second thing. We must not only be related to the foundation in that way, but we must also be specifically related to the chief cornerstone. Everyone who is truly a member of God’s Church is related to the faith of the apostles and prophets and is also in a very definite relationship to Jesus Christ Himself. Although it is important to give an intellectual assent to the faith, it is not enough.
We must be “in Christ.” We must be joined to Christ. We must intimately know this vital union and relationship to Him. The chief cornerstone holds everything together; that is why Paul repeats it over and over again.
Ephesians 2:19-22 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The whole chapter emphasizes it. He says, “We have been raised together with Christ; we are seated together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” and so on. This is something that can neither be evaded nor avoided. We must believe and accept the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, and we must be incorporated into Him; we must be in vital union with Him. Jesus expresses the same thing in a different analogy in John 15 verse 5.
John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
As members, as parts, in this great building, we are all related to Him. Some of the other illustrations that Paul uses bring that out even more clearly. The illustration of the body does it still more perfectly: A body is a collection of parts stuck together. The whole essence of the unity of the body is that it is vital and organic. A body is not formed by putting fingers on hands, hands on forearms, and forearms on arms. On the contrary! They are all vitally and intimately related, they work together, and life and blood flow through all its parts.
Similarly, we are all related to Christ by being in Christ, by being parts of Him, belonging to Him, and the parts are all held together by Him. That is also, obviously, something of fundamental importance and brings us to the third thing, the one we must now consider in detail: our relationship to one another.
Think of a building and of stones in a building. They are all related to the foundation; they are all related to the chief cornerstone; but they also bear a relationship to one another. You cannot have a wall without an interrelationship of the parts. This is the principle Paul illustrates in this very important and picturesque statement which is translated in Ephesians 2:21 by the words, “being fitted together;” or, as it is translated in the King James Version, “fitly framed together.”
This is a very interesting expression. We have it here in three words, but Paul actually used only one word in the Greek. Another very interesting thing about this word is that it is only found in Ephesians 2:21 and in Ephesians 4:16. It is not found anywhere else in the entire Bible.
But there is something else that is still moreinteresting about it. It is a word that was obviously created by Paul himself. He did not borrow it; he had not seen it anywhere else. This is the first use of the word that is known. I emphasize that for this reason: Paul regarded this particular point as being an exceptionally important one, so much so that he coins a word in order to bring out this idea. And yet, though Paul took all that trouble, some of the most popular translations have missed the precise meaning altogether. Take for instance, the Revised Standard Version. It translates it as just “joined together,” missing the whole point of the word that Paul coined.
Paul could have used many words to bring out the idea of “joined together.” Moffatt, in his translation, gets a little nearer when he talks about “welded together.” However, even that is wrong because you do not weld stones together and Paul’s whole conception and picture is in terms of building with stones.
The word Paul actually used means: “harmoniously fitted together” and is a double compound using three words combined into one. The fundamental word means “binding” or “joint” and that in and of itself suggests coming together, but he emphasized this more by adding a prefix. Together-joint; “joint” suggests the idea of “together,” but he says “together-joint” to make quite sure that we grasp and understand it.
In addition to that, he put the prefix “sum” which means simply “together;” the same idea as you have in “summation” or in any one of such compounds. Then, he added a third word to these two, a word which really means “to collect” or “to gather” or “to choose.” This third word is often used for fitting words together or joining them to form a sentence.
When a man is speaking or writing certain words suggest themselves to him. He picks one and rejects the other. He does the same with the next word rejecting one and choosing another. Then, he combines the chosen words to form a sentence. The word Paul used suggests that process.
So, we have here: “together—joint—choose.” Paul put these three words together to make one word which is translated in the King James Version as “fitly framed together” and in the New King James Version as “being fitted together.”
Obviously, there is some significance to this. Paul would never have taken the trouble to invent a word unless he had wanted us to be very clear about the ideas he was conveying. Granted, we are living in days when buildings are made of bricks rather than stones, and we may have a difficult time imaging Paul’s picture accurately.
Rid your mind of the idea of a brick building. Think rather of a great, massive building of stone. Study the men who are erecting this building. Have you ever seen a real craftsman, the old type of mason, at work? If you have had the opportunity to watch him building a wall, you saw him pull a single stone out of a heap, look at it, look at his wall, find that it is unsuitable, throw it away, and pick out another that he trims and places in position. That is the picture Paul uses; “fitted together”—individual stones being added to and placed in position in a wall very carefully.
What are the ideas he conveys by this language, this pictorial expression? The first principle is the whole idea of choice. Anyone who has ever watched a real builder knows exactly what this means. Spiritually, God chooses the specific members He wants in His Church; each must fit in a specific place.
The second principle is that all the stones in this building are not identical. Spiritually, each and every member is unique and has his own personality, gifts, and skills.
The third principle is that the stones are prepared and shaped to fit the building. Spiritually, God works personally on each member through Jesus Christ to chip off the unwanted characteristics and shape us into something that fits into His Temple.
We all have these odd angles and corners and, as we are by nature, we do not fit in. Those sharp edges have to be chiseled off. We are all awkward people in a manner of speaking. Rough hewn stones as we are, in a sense, blasted out of the quarry. Until we are properly shaped, we are not put into His wall.
If we read the New Testament and listen to the preaching and the teaching, we will see the absolute need and necessity of this preparation. What kind of building would you have if all the stones were angular and difficult like that? What kind of church would you have? It would be impossible to build it.
That is where personal discipline comes in. We have to be less difficult people. We have to be able to be “fitted together.” We have to forget ourselves and think of the wall, the building, the Church and realize together that it is Jesus Christ, following the Great Architect’s plan, who decides where we are to be, what we are to be, and what specific function we are to perform.
If you are in this building or are going to be in this building you will be formed and fashioned. Remember, it is God’s building and if you do not apply the teaching and the instruction and the message of the Scriptures as you should, God has another way of doing it.
Hebrews 12:6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.
God has an effective chisel and a powerful hammer. He will knock those sharp edges off of us if the appeals and admonishments of Scripture do not make us discipline ourselves and remove these corners and irregularities.
We all know something about this in our personal experiences. He humbles us; He brings us down and He has many ways of doing it. He can do it through illness, death, sorrow, failure, or hundreds of other ways. Thank God that He does do this or none of us would finally be “fitted together” in that spiritual wall! God does not accept us the way we are for His holy temple, for His dwelling place. He shapes us and finely polishes us so that we fit into His glorious and holy Temple.